The Bosphorus and A Money Lesson / June 6 - 2003

Today I cruised the Bosphorus. The strait connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara - 32 miles long and 3 miles wide at it's widest. It has not changed much since Jason and the Argonauts sailed through in search of the golden fleece, except that he now could take a public ferry for about five dollars or hire any number of tour boats that cost quite a bit more.
Awake at 5:00 (read previous e-mail), up at seven to eat yet another wonderful breakfast. Walked a half block to an Internet café to send yesterday's travelogue and spent the next hour trying to attach photos. Internet is slow due to earthquake damage somewhere, or so I am told. Had a major breakthrough - I figured out how to use my laptop to connect directly to the Internet, but since I am leaving tomorrow I do not know how well I will be able to connect elsewhere.
Walked back to the hotel and had them call a taxi for a lift to the ferry - the taxi arrived about 15 seconds later (I am not kidding). Taxi to Ferry - Ferry to Black Sea - a stop at a small fishing village and then back to Istanbul. And all for five dollars.
A little about money: The American dollar is worth literally millions - The Euro is worth even more. Specifically, the American dollar is worth 1,434,100 Turkish lire. The largest printed currency in Turkey is the 20,000,000 note, and it is worth $14 - The smallest Turkish note is the 100,000 note and it is worth 7 cents. The Turks have coins but they are worth more as scrap metal than as currency.
Now, does this mean everything is free? NO. It means that you have to count a lot of zeros whenever you buy something. A soft drink costs a million lire (about 75 cents), a nice meal costs 15,000,000 lire (about 10 dollars) Taxi to airport - 15 dollars, one hour of Internet time (one dollar), taxi to almost anywhere in your neighborhood (3 dollars), a hotel room (60 dollars) - that's over 86 million lire if you like lots of zeros. You can pay in lire, dollars, or euros, but considering the seller will determine today's value in lire, you might do better by giving him lire to begin with. Most places in Istanbul accept credit cards which makes everything easier, but the vendors will add a bit to the bill to offset the cost of using plastic.
Note: Turkish Carpets are quoted in dollars because only Americans would pay that much for something that is sold on every street corner and then take it home and walk on it.
Modern Istanbul is confusing, noisy, and fast - very fast. Horns honking, people yelling, people dodging cars, cars dodging people - much like any normal big city. Istanbul is crowded because Turks live in Istanbul -The ferries and the museums on the other hand are relatively empty because tourists ride ferry rides and visit museums, and the tourists are staying away. I feel sorry for the businesses - tables at restaurants empty at noon, museums with no visitors, souvenir shops full of merchandise with no one buying. No wonder the carpet sellers are on the attack. One man yesterday dropped his usual line about "Would you like some Turkish tea?" and yelled at me, "Come to my store, I need your money." Refreshing but it still did not work.
A side note: The Turkey I have visited so far is about visible men and invisible women. Most of the women I have seen are tourists. The shops are run by men, the waiters are men; men clean my hotel room, and men drive the taxis. They gather outside the stores and talk, they sing together while loading trucks, they spend hours playing board games and socializing. I have seen a few women minding a few shops and there is a woman who prepares this hotel's breakfast, but she leaves as soon as the hotel guests are finished. The owner of this hotel is a woman but she is an American. How can you tell a Turkish male from a tourist? The tourists are wearing short-sleeved shirts, shorts, hats, sunglasses, and they don't smoke.
The weather continues to be perfect. Clear, sunny, and actually a little chilly today - well, I was on a ferry for most of the morning and early afternoon. I found yet another cat to have lunch with. I think they know I am traveling alone and offer me company while dining. They generally sit at my feet or in the chair across from me.
Betty, Turks are mountain goats. I walked back to my hotel from the ferry. Now the ferry is at sea level and my hotel is next to the Topkapi Palace which was built at the top of the highest hill around. Thought I was going to die - even their bridges go uphill. While I was sweating and wheezing to the top, little old women covered from head to toe in black were passing me on both sides. Did I mention that Turkey is not handicap accessible?
I have seen eighty year olds with canes jumping on ferries which were only partially tied to the dock. The steps to the Blue Mosque are 12 inches high per step. My hotel has four stories and no elevator - the only way to my room is up a circular staircase. I think it may be illegal to bring wheelchairs into the country because I certainly have seen none - well, come to think of it, they would be of little use with all the stairs, hills, circular staircases and ferry jumping requirements.
Tomorrow I leave for Izmir and Bergama. I will be departing for the airport by 9 AM tomorrow morning and should be in Bergama by 2. I do not think there is much of a chance that there will be an Internet Café in Bergama, so I may be off-line for a few days.

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